Authors: Vanessa Carvo
Facing The Storm
Along The Oregon Trail
Leaving Without Blessings
IN THE SWEETearly hours of an April morning, Benjamin and Emily Whetstone gathered their belongings, packed their buggy and set out for St. Jo, Missouri. At nineteen and fifteen years old, they were about to take an adventure of the unknown.
Losing their Amish parents to a drowning accident, they longed for family. They would travel from Elkhart, Indiana by buggy, cross a river by ferry and enter St. Jo, Missouri. There they would take the money their parents had left behind and trade their horse and buggy for an oxen team and wagon.
Staying in the Amish community they grew up in was no longer an option. Not feeling any connections, their late mother’s desire became their passion. Their mother had longed to
reconnect with her sister and family who had been excommunicated years before for the simple fact of wanting to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ outside the Amish faith.
This was against the Amish rules and their Aunt’s desires brought on the fact of them being excommunicated. The siblings, Aunt was forced to leave and she resettled out in Oregon, the land of new opportunity.
Benjamin and Emily made the choice to leave all they ever knew to fulfill their mother’s wishes. It would be a trying journey filled with sweet and tender moments, as well as extreme hardships and it would try their faith to the utmost.
With news of so many people leaving for Oregon, they decided to seek refuge with strangers on the trail, as they hold onto their gleaming hope and their love for Jesus Christ. With much to ponder, mostly of the unknown, they made a decision to pretend that they are husband and wife instead of brother and sister, in hopes that this would bring more protection to Emily.
So, as Abram and Sari in the Old Testament took on the charade of being a married couple, so did Benjamin and Emily. When the sun hit the skies that morning, they slowly pulled away without the blessings from those they had known all their lives, leaving their names scratched out by the Amish community as a lesson to others they left behind.
Now, alone with only each other, they too were excommunicated and what remains is their strong faith and determination. Leaving a dusty trails behind, they each take one last glance as they pass by their old familiar family farm and yet a smile spreads across their faces.
“Well Emily, we’re off and I do believe there is no turning back now, but the Lord will provide, do you believe so, Emily?”
“Oh yes Benjamin, I do believe that He will provide for us and shall deliver us to Oregon safe and sound”.
And, taking his hand in hers, she smiled as they passed farm after farm, until they finally saw no family farms anymore. As they settled into their thoughts, they found themselves strong, happy and determined, despite all the warnings the congregation had given them.
It was April of 1852 and the day was young while their spirits were high.
ARRIVING INSt. Jo, Missouri their eyes were opened wide to the enormous amount of wagons all lined up for the train. For as far back as they could see, they could not identify any other Amish which made them a bit nervous, but they took the attitude that they must be two of the brave ones and they pulled up in line. Here, they would purchase any supplies they needed to have and this is where they traded in their horse and buggy for a team of oxen and a wagon.
Scurrying about, they unloaded and loaded their buggy and wagon, piling in their food supplies and water. With so many doing business, they found out they would be staying the night and they got themselves a room.
It was understood that the train would then be ready to pull out at dawn. Getting a good night’s sleep and a well-rounded meal, they waited for their departure with excitement.
MORNING ARRIVEDand they took their place in line on the train and they were now Oregon bound. Sitting side by side they began their journey. Benjamin and Emily were about half way down the train with their wagon and behind them was a wagon filled with so many children, that they were hanging out the sides of the wagon all excited and looking around everywhere.
Emily watched as the children squirmed and giggled as their wagon rolled along.
She was thinking to herself that if nothing else, she would really enjoy the children on this train--for she loved children so much.
She had hoped her own mama would have had many children, but she had her and her brother, and then her mother could have no more. That is where her Aunt Martha came in. She had eleven children and Emily began thinking about the day that her community
excommunicated her and made her take all her children for a buggy ride to town and then never return.
It was heartbreaking and the rules of their community’s faith kept Emily and her family from staying in touch. Although her mother was able to receive a few letters through the years from her sister, it was never enough.
Emily was so close to her Aunt and to the other children and it broke her heart when they were forced to leave. At the time Emily’s mother would have just left with them, but Emily’s father would not hear of it. He was a very devout Amish man and the way he saw it was that the laws were made to not be broken and his compassion for Emily’s Aunt was not much.
There was a family that lived nearby, but they were not Amish and Emily’s Aunt managed to return to their farm and slipped them a letter for them to give to Emily’s mother and through this loving non-Amish family, they were then able to keep in touch.
About two months before Emily’s mother and father drowned trying to cross a fast moving stream in their buggy, Emily’s Aunt had left a letter with the nearby neighbors, asking Emily’s mother to consider moving out to Oregon with her and the children.
She had sent enough money to help her make her trip, even if it meant without her husband and she had been waiting eagerly for her sister’s answer. Emily’s mother at the time was considering taking her two children and joining her sister, and then the accident happened.
This devastated Emily and her brother Benjamin and they both were allowed their time to grieve and then they were taken from their family’s home and placed with other Amish families in the community.
But, they had the letters from their Aunt Martha and they had dreams that could not be put to rest and now they were living that dream on the Oregon Trail.
As Emily sat and thoughts of her Aunt ran through her mind, she watched the children as they were bobbing in and out of the wagon and smiles filled her heart. It would not be long, she thought, before they would be reunited with their true family, and they all could worship Jesus together.
Emily felt she too had a calling to share the Gospel with others and the elders in the Amish community would hear nothing of sharing the Gospel in that way, much less a woman sharing the Gospel verbally.
But, they didn’t quite know her Aunt Martha. She was very verbal and teaching the bible was her love and she always felt like it was her calling, whether she was woman or man.
“Our first big adventure, Emily, will be crossing the Platte River and we’ll have to be very careful sis. They say the current of this river is so strong and it’s all undertow. You can’t see it on the surface, but there’s a current deep under the water and it can pull you in”.
After saying this, he almost felt guilty because it quickly brought their parents to their minds. The accident of their parents was so devastating and they didn’t have a chance. It was pouring down rain and the storm moving in had brought such high winds that they couldn’t see at all.
They should have backed their buggy up and just turned around, but they carried on when they could not see. The horses even fought them, trying to turn around, but their father was determined to cross.
Ahead of them a bridge was out and they didn’t realize and it had swelled way over the road. Their father found a spot where he thought he could cross safely, but since he could not see because of the wind, he didn’t realize he was crossing a deep part that had high current.
As they tried to cross, the horses got spooked and the buggy tipped over spewing both their parents out and they were swept away in the current. Their mother was found lying close to the bridge and she had gotten wrapped around some brush, but was not able to keep her head up out of the water long enough to be saved. As Emily looked at Benjamin, they both had tears in their eyes when they remembered the day they were told about their parents, and she just snuggled up to him saying “We’ll be fine Benjamin; the Lord will guide us through”.
The two did not realize that it was possible that they would cross by ferry, so their thoughts were on crossing it in their wagon and this kept them both quiet for some time.
Crossing the Platte
COMING UP TOthe Platte River, the two of them were filled with excitement and fear and as they pulled their wagon over with the rest, they looked out across that water, worrying how they would make it across. As they were standing there the Captain must have sensed their fear and he approached them with some news.
“Mr. and Mrs. Whetstone, I’d like to know if you two would consider being one of the few that will cross by ferry.” Hearing this their eyes lit up and a weight of worry was lifted from their shoulders. “What do you mean we’re crossing by ferry?” Emily asked.
“Yes ma’am, there will be some who shall cross by ferry. We do not have time for all to wait on the ferry, but we can allow several wagons to cross that way. Would you like to be one of the few?”
“Oh yes, Captain, that would be a wonderful blessing. I’m not sure I’m ready to cross in my wagon yet,” Emily confessed.
“Well then, that shall be arranged,” the Captain said with a wink of his eye and rode away to the front of the train. In a few moments he rode back to them and told them to pull on up ahead and he would help them get loaded up on the ferry.
It was almost as if someone had whispered their great fear into his ear. Emily counted this as their very first blessing from God and she at once began praising God for His touch in this situation.
They did as the Captain said and pulled their oxen and wagon up to the river. The Captain announced that they would let the oxen cross through the river, but that they could ride the ferry over and their eyes shone with joy.
So, their first experience of crossing a river in a wagon would be delayed, at least for now.
After they had gotten across and as the other wagons were crossing, Emily walked over to the Captain saying “Captain Shallows, I would like to thank you for your very kind gesture. We had family that died as they attempted to cross a stream in their buggy, and not too long ago.
“So, we appreciate your kindness”.
“My dear, no need to thank me, the good Lord knows best.” And, with his words, Emily felt warmed that the Captain must be hearing from God and this made her feel much safer than she had when she began the journey.
After she ran back to Benjamin, she explained to him what the Captain had said and they both just sat and stared at him and then thanked God for His works in their lives.
There were still about ten more wagons to get across the river and Emily could not rest until all ten had made it. As she watched each wagon, she prayed that each would make it through with no problems and as the last one rolled up the bank, she lifted her arms in praise.
Now the wagons would all be pulled to the side and each family would be allowed to get out and stretch and visit with others on the trail, taking the time to cook a light meal and fill their barrels with water if need be.
Here, many of the wagon families would meet each other for the first time and Emily hopped down out of her wagon and eagerly set out to make her acquaintance with anyone she could.
Benjamin tied up the oxen and was just steps behind her, ready to stand by her side. Calling her over to him, he reminded her that they were supposed to be married, and she nodded that she understood.
Walking over to the first wagon nearby, they both approached and soon discovered that it was the family with all the children bobbing in and out of the wagon and Emily’s eyes lit up as she ran up and introduced herself.
As they sat and got acquainted with the family, they shared many stories and Emily found herself not enjoying telling the lie that they were married and not sister and brother. But, Benjamin had convinced her that she would be much safer if they were to say they were married.
After enjoying sweet conversation for about an hour, the Captain rode by and informed everyone that they must move on and get closer to Chimney Rock and there they would be pulling over for the night to camp.
Everyone climbing back into their wagons, they carried on along the trail, looking ahead for this Chimney Rock that was said to be so big that you could see it way ahead. Sure enough, it came into view about forty miles out and stood so tall.
To Emily it looked like a giant hay stack and she giggled as she said to Benjamin “How would you like to climb that hay stack?”
“Well, it might be fun, but I wouldn’t want to get lost in that one and I sure wouldn’t want to climb that pole looking thing that is in the center of it either!” This made Emily laugh because she couldn’t agree more.
Getting closer and closer to Chimney Rock, it didn’t take too long for them to realize just how small they really were compared to God’s beauty. It stood way above, high in the clouds and it was a stunning site. They still had about ten more miles to go and they by this time, were looking forward to settling in for the night.